It is the 18th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1838.
In service of our memorial today, we will look quickly at a few things happening in America and on the world stage this year.
Rationalism was the "-ism" of the day. Enlightenment skepticism met with a seemingly ossified orthodoxy to create a new breed of the philosopher, theologian, and public intellectual. The approaches to rationalism included a demystifying of the Bible and reductionism. A.A. Livermore's "Reason and Revelation" was an American tract in favor of Unitarianism. Furthermore, rationalism could also lead to a retrenchment of fundamentalisms as the outside world was encroaching.
And fundamentalism's more cosmopolitan expression, unionism, found favor on both sides of the Atlantic. Friedrich Schleiermacher was the name in skeptical European Christianity at the time. Schleiermacher and others propose a "lowest common denominator" style of unionism between denominations, which would give rise to the so-called Prussian Union. More on that in a second.
While the Universities in Europe proved to be incubators for new ideas and dissent, America's impetus came from someplace less refined. The spirit of the Second Great Awakening loomed large, especially on the frontier. But even with an irenic spirit and wide-open spaces, the bigotry of private interpretation could cause trouble. It was in 1838 that the governor of Missouri had his order 44 executed. (As both a historian and Star Wars fan, can I suggest we stop making numbered orders a thing?). Order 44 ran the Mormons out of town upon penalty of death. They headed for Illinois. More on that frontier in a second, as well.
There was a kind of nativism, ironically being displayed by non-natives in the American West that would see deviation, either theologically or tribally, as a mark of the outsider. Tensions began to rise with the question of the native American, the non-English speaker, and the slave all coming to the forefront.
In 1838 in America, one of the theological questions had to do with the merits of slavery. Much of the pre-Civil War debate centered on the inclusion of new states to the west and whether they would be free or slave. In 1838 a young state representative, Rep. Abraham Lincoln of Sangamon county, would give an impassioned speech against slavery and in favor of the rule of law and American political institutions.
In the context of European rationalism, American nativism, and westward expansion on the American frontier, on this the 18th of November in 1838, 181 Saxon Lutherans set sail from Bremerhaven on board the steamship Olbers. It was the 4th of four ships with religious refugees that would eventually get to New Orleans. The German Lutherans, fleeing forced union in a state church, the Prussian Union, would then head up the Mississippi to land in Missouri. These would become the Missouri-Synod Lutherans.
The Olbers was the last of five ships that prepared to come to America under the leadership of Martin Stephan. Stephan led his group of Saxon Lutherans away from the rationalism and unionism in Germany to… well, much of the same in America. But here, they could spread out. Stephan came on the Olbers, the 4th of five ships, with the last Lutherans. The 5th ship, the Amalia, set sail days after the Olbers carried much of the food, books, instruments, and other creature comforts for the emigrating Saxons. However, It sunk on the voyage, making the first year even more difficult for the Lutherans in Missouri.
Martin Stephan, the overseer of the group, required strict obedience. The immigrants suffered in their first year under his leadership, although not always on account of his administration. When it was discovered that Bishop Stephan was friendlier with the young women than he should be and that his expectations of a certain standard of living were a little too high, he was exiled across the river into Illinois. Missouri-Synod Lutherans know the rest of the story and why they don't call anyone Bishop anymore.
C.F.W. Walther, who had been an admirer of Stephan, would soon lead the settlers and their church. The Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod would be established. Those folks who left Bremerhaven on board the Olbers, on this the 18th of November in 1838, would become founding members of this new church body in America.
The reading for today comes from C.F. W Walther's older brother, a pastor named Otto Walther. Upon hearing of the sinking of the Amalia, the 5th ship that set sail from Bremerhaven. He composed a poem in the form of lamentation and dialog with Jesus. These are the first two stanzas, translated by W.M. Czamanske.
Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus, the ship has not come,
The ship named Amalia is missing!
When wilt Thou, O pilot, convey her back home
From the storms that are howling and hissing?
Have we, Lord, been favored Thy mercies to share?
Was their ship too small for Thy kindness and care?
Lord Jesus, come, still all our yearning
And hasten Amalia's returning!
I granted her prayer
For kindness and care.
She was not too small
For tempest and squall.
My love went with her a-sailing,
My power and presence prevailing.
My sheep, neither hopeless nor craven,
Were led to a beautiful heaven
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a Missouri-Synod man who needs a bishop like a fish needs a bicycle, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.